From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Wed May 26 2004 - 13:25:22 EDT
>are you saying that the positing of the existence of abstract labor >is not a mistaken ontological commitment because in the rough words >of Hans Ehrbar abstract human labour is in fact an aspect of the >human labour process as every labour process is the expenditure of >brain, muscle, sense organs, etc. Do you agree with Hans when he >writes; "The fact that same word 'labour' is used for many different >activities shows that the abstraction can be made"? Hi Rakesh, I think that abstract labour is real and exists, and that money is a representation of it. But not because all human labour is the expenditure of brain, muscle, sense organs etc. (There's no need to drop down to physiology here). But because any individual's labour is potentially interchangeable with another's, and hence all humans can potentially perform any concrete labour. (This is a relational rather than physiological definition). Basically, we are set of identical components in an economic machine. One component pretty much works like any other, and can be configured to perform the work of any other. (I hope my mechanical metaphors don't tweak any humanist sensibilities.) I am abstracting from variations present in any population. No set of components is perfectly identical -- for example, many characteristics are often normally distributed. But these are second-order issues. So, from this point of view, the equality of working people is an objective fact rooted in their identical causal powers as members of the same species. That complex of causal powers -- that all humans possess -- can be called abstract labour. But it isn't a "substance", rather it is a complex set of causal powers. But "substance" is fine -- at least it does signify the material reality of abstract labour. The predominant mechanism that currently allocates abstract labour to particular concrete tasks is a distributed algorithm that happens to employ money, a numerical representation of amounts of abstract labour. There is an interesting question of why some forms of money do in fact represent abstract labour. I personally think there is nothing problematic here -- on condition that the concept of representation is naturalised and not incorrectly restricted to a capacity only of the human mind. At root, representation is implemented via causal links, and commodity economies instantiate the right causal relationships to support the representation. Static models in which prices have only a nominal rather than a causal role will therefore fail to theorise the representation of abstract labour in monetized economies. Of course this is highly simplified, but I'd be interested in any philosophical criticisms. I hope I not have a "mistaken ontological commitment"! I find that dialectical concepts tend to confuse matters regarding this difficult subject, which is why I try to use different language that I hope is clearer. ATB, -Ian.
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